A reader weighed in on exclamation points in my recent blog on pet peeves:
“The exclamation point is overused to the point it has lost its intent in the communication I read.”
What is the intent of an exclamation point?
Let’s start by defining exclaim: to cry out suddenly with strong feeling, especially in surprise, anger, or pain; to say something in an enthusiastic or forceful way
If you’re an enthusiastic person writing about a topic that excites you, you might be tempted to overdo exclamation points. But use care; too many exclamation points can wear out your readers or leave them breathless.
Do you really intend to express excitement or force when you say, for example:
I’ll send you the report before 5 p.m. tomorrow!
Let’s meet at Lucky’s right after work!
Please call me when you decide!
Punctuating a sentence that has an exclamation point and quotation marks can be challenging. Follow these guidelines.
An exclamation point can appear either inside or outside of quotation marks, depending on whether it is part of the quoted material:
“How excited you must be about the new baby!” she exclaimed.
“Look out! There’s a car coming!” the mother shouted at her toddler as he headed down the driveway on his tricycle.
Notice that neither example includes additional punctuation. In other words, there is no comma or period before or after the closing quotation mark.
These exclamation points are not part of the quoted material:
Please, please don’t make me sit through every campaign “debate”!
No, she did not call him a “bloviating bag of wind”!
Exclamation points serve a purpose, but using too many is like the little boy who cried wolf: When they appear too frequently, they lose their impact and effectiveness.
When you combine an exclamation point with a question mark, you get an interrobang. Check out the history and use of this useful but not-often-seen punctuation mark that spellcheck still does not recognize.
Share this post with friends and colleagues. If they’re guilty of exclamation-point overuse, you’ll be doing them a favor.
For more tips on punctuation, word use and misuse, capitalizations and abbreviations, order your copy, ebook or paperback, of Grammar For People Who Hate Rules: Killer Tips From The Ruthless Editor. You’ll find it an indispensable and easy-to-use tool that will keep you on the grammar straight and narrow and make you look good at work and online.
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